Disabled Access

Access and facilities for people with disabilities.

Part R of the Building Regulations deals with the provision of access to, into and within a building for people with disabilities. It may also require providing facilities suitable for use by disabled people if there are similar provisions for others.

Recently, (01 April 2001), the regulations have been extended, to a limited extent, to include dwellings. They do not however extend to associated garages or outbuilding.

Everyone must now be able to reach the principal entrance or other entrances from the boundary of the land belonging to the building and from car parking within this boundary. This will require giving special consideration to the design of the set down point and approach route. These considerations may include size and location of parking space, level or graded approach, dropped kerbs, contrasting colour and texture of approach, guarding or elimination of hazards along the approach route, etc. In some cases, the provision of a stepped approach may be the only possible method of facilitating those with disabilities. Even in these cases the designer must be aware that special criteria are used for the rise, going and geometry of steps and landings.

Access into and within any storey of the building (other than a dwelling) and to any facility provided may be via a lift or ramp. This provision may not be required for the upper floors of two storey buildings less than 280m2 in area or three or more storey buildings less than 200m2 in area unless that storey contains a facility to which wheelchair users should have access.

Advice for designers

Some helpful publications include:

  • BS 5810:1979 - Code of Practice for Access for the Disabled to Buildings.
  • DFP Technical Booklet R: 2000 - Access and Facilities for Disabled People.
  • Department for Education and Employment Building Bulletin 91 - Access for Disabled People to School Buildings.
  • BS 5588-8:1999 - Code of Practice for Means of Escape for Disabled People.

Some practical points

From our experience of administering the Regulations we would ask building designers to bear in mind the following points:

Toilets for disabled people

Follow the design guides in respect of dimensions and siting of appliances including WC, washbasin, mirror, support rails, etc. Make sure that site operatives have sufficient information about where everything is to go at the earliest possible stage. We have often found that initial set out has put the builder's upstand for the WC pipe in the wrong place within the toilet because it wasn't conveyed exactly where it should go when the drains were being installed. It should also be noted that the deemed to satisfy is a minimum standard and you are encouraged to go beyond this standard.

Ramps

Don't forget that those ramps more than 2m long need handrails to both sides. Allow space for a level landing in front of the entrance door. Ramps also often cause design problems because they take up a lot of space, consider early on in design and not as an add on.

Means of Escape

In designing the means of escape from a building, don't forget the needs of disabled people! BS 5588-8: 1999 is of assistance in this respect.

Access for all and the Disability Discrimination Act.

The Disability Discrimination Act is legislation that extends much further than Part R of the Building Regulations. It is aimed at addressing the issue of discrimination faced by many disabled people in their everyday routine of going about their business, which most others take for granted. When it comes into full force in 2004, the act will affect all service providers and require them to make reasonable adjustments to the physical features of their premises thereby overcoming physical barriers to access.

The DDA has been a reality since 1995. Under the act the term disability relates to "a physical and/or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities." The term impairment can relate to mobility, manual dexterity, physical co-ordination, lifting, continence, carrying/moving objects, speech, hearing, eyesight, memory, concentration, learning/understanding or recognition of physical danger. Part III of the act covers Access to Goods, Services & Facilities, and applies to the design of new and extended buildings, refurbishment projects, and management and operation of existing premises and facilities. Subject to limited exceptions, anyone classed as a Provider of Goods, Services & Facilities must comply with the duties set out in Part III, regardless of whether the service or facility is provided free of charge. An important point to be remembered is that the rights in Part III relate to the access to services rather than to the actual building in which they are being made available.

Reasonable adjustments

From 2004, "reasonable adjustments" must be made to either remove any barriers to access or put in place measures to enable avoidance of them. The buildings of service providers are not required to be compliant by 2004: the DDA is not a compliance-based act. Potential barriers to access vary from building to building and the act does not give a blanket set of regulations. It is hoped however that a guidance booklet on deemed to satisfy suggestions will be published by one or more of the advice groups, however the heart of the legislation rests on "reasonable steps". This will vary, not only according to the type of service and the nature or size of the provider, but also the financial resources available. For example, a corner shop will not be expected to make the same provisions as a corporately owned supermarket.

The DDA also takes into account the individual design of a building. For example if the building has been constructed in such a way that it is impossible to widen the door without structural difficulties or great financial cost, other options will be deemed reasonable such as the conversion of an existing window into an alternative door.

The DDA does not replace existing legislation such as Part R of the Building Regulations and Health and Safety regulations. In fact, Part R will remain in place and its conditions will still need to be met in addition to the requirements of the DDA.

Service providers have a duty to monitor the experience of disabled people in accessing their services and to make any further adjustments if necessary. In short, the DDA is based upon an evolving, continuous duty to users.

While service providers have another two years before any changes need to be made, they should be identifying barriers now so that in 2004 they will know what needs to be done and how this is going to be achieved - this is certainly the recommendation of the Government.

Any refurbishment projects to be completed before 2004 should take the DDA into account in order to avoid additional spend in the near future. For new build projects, the earlier accessibility issues are included in plans, the less likely they are to impact on the overall design or to incur significant costs. Areas for action include doors, ramps, stairs and steps, accessible toilets and sanitary fittings, fire exits and availability of lifts.

The range of impairments to which the term disability might relate is an indication of the variety of access issues that need to be addressed. The requirements of a person with a physical disability will be different to those of a person with a visual impairment. Therefore, whilst actions such as the addition of a ramp to allow wheelchair access are important, further elements should also be considered such as colour and audio prompts. For example, the colouring of floors, walls and doors should all be different so that they can be easily distinguished. People with hearing impairments may require audio prompts, while those with visual impairments would benefit from larger notices or signs in Braille.

Nothing should be overlooked. Basic aspects to be taken into consideration include something as simple as the height of a door lever which should ensure that the door can be easily opened by someone standing at average height and by someone sitting in a wheelchair. This is also true for the speed of a door closer: the door should allow enough time for a person with disabilities to pass through before it begins to close. None of these two elements are covered by the Building Regulations at the moment but with the introduction of minimum and maximum heights for light switches and sockets, this is bound to change in the future. By asking the correct questions now, service providers can save money by eliminating the need for costly refurbishment in 2004.